Colossal review: Anne Hathaway controls kaiju-like monster

Who says filmmakers have run out of ideas? This feeling has permeated the industry for decades. Yes, there’s some truth to it, especially if you consider movies released from May to August. That’s definitely not the case with Colossal. It can be blamed for several things, but being unoriginal is not one of them.

Colossal tells that age-old tale of a recently dumped, unemployed, alcoholic young woman who moves back to her hometown and just so happens to control a gigantic kaiju-style monster that’s half a world away. And the rest writes itself.

Okay, maybe it doesn’t. The film may have elements of a predictable summer blockbuster, but it’s a small, indie film at its core. The movie was written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, who has made other quirky, low-budget sci-fi movies in the past. Whatever preconceived notions you have about monster films can be checked at the door; this movie takes you places you’ll never expect, some delightful, some not so much.

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The movie starts off with a monster attack in Seoul, Korea. It quickly shifts to a more intimate experience as we see Gloria (an excellent Anne Hathaway), an unemployed writer and classic train-wreck, get booted from her New York apartment by her boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), and move back to her old house in Middle America. She reunites with her childhood friend, Oscar, played by SNL alumnus Jason Sudeikis who continues to show promise in dramatic roles. He owns his late father’s bar and is incredibly welcoming and helpful toward Gloria. Yes, on the outside he’s a real gem.

Gloria takes a job at Oscar’s bar, a great gig for an alcoholic for sure. Adding fuel to the fire, she drinks after hours and into the morning with Oscar and his friends, Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and Joel (Austin Stowell), sleeping off her intoxication in a local park. Meanwhile, the monster continues to terrorize Seoul and Gloria gradually comes to realize her drunken trips to the park might be to blame. Wait, what?!? Oscar also becomes somewhat of a terror himself, allowing his feelings for Gloria and sense of worthlessness to evolve into jealousy and rage.

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There’s the script’s primary flaw in an otherwise enjoyable experience. Oscar’s transition from friend to foe is too sudden and too severe. It’s natural to become jealous over a crush and plausible to become controlling or angry. But the story takes Oscar in directions that are just unrealistic even by this movie’s standards. After the film’s first half, the dynamic between Gloria and Oscar is jolting and contributes to the movie’s wild tonal shifts. It’s a quirky, unusual, often laugh-out-loud funny movie, but scenes in the second half are just off-putting. It’s as if an aggressive family member just ruined a nice Thanksgiving dinner.

The human drama is still important, though. Even the most shallow monster movies act as metaphors and say something more important than what’s on the surface. Vigalondo definitely, and thankfully, tries to dig deeper with this project. Often he succeeds. You can look at this film as a warning against alcohol abuse and the effects it has on others. You can look at the film as a criticism of male entitlement. It’s bold and daring, for sure, but the movie has a lack of focus when exploring its themes. What’s so important in a story like this is a perfect blending between the personal drama of its characters and the greater spectacle. The movie approaches this ideal, but some narrative stumbles get in the way.

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Nonetheless, Hathaway is dynamite. She’s a complete mess, but the actress finds numerous ways to make her likable. She’s goofy, flirty and adventurous despite her depression and complete lack of direction in life. Altogether, she’s a complex character we can identify with in a situation we most certainly cannot. And, even though his character’s arc is a little extreme, Sudeikis plays both the amiable companion and the aggressive adversary convincingly. The chemistry between the two leads isn’t bad either.

Final Reaction

I praise Vigalondo for making this film. It’s a wonderfully bizarre and entirely creative little experiment. It’s just a shame that Colossal doesn’t retain the magic of the first half, though it does redeem itself somewhat at the end. The film has a delightfully unique premise and the filmmakers could’ve taken this in a number of different, dare I say better, directions. But the effort and ingenuity are evident and Colossal definitely deserves a viewing. If nothing else, it reminds us that filmmakers are still trying to surprise us with new ideas and that’s really refreshing as we head into the summer where originality is as rare as a monster siting in Korea.

Rating: 3/5 Atoms

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